The popular NHRA YES Program is celebrating 30 years of providing young people with opportunities to enter the automotive field through hands-on education.
As exciting as being in the hot, loud pit of a professional Funny Car drag racing team is – preparing for the nitromethane explosion equivalent to a 2.0 earthquake, feeling the adrenaline, hearing the roar of the engines, seeing the crowd cheer – imagine what it would be like for a 17-year-old.
For decades, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) has been inviting high-school students to professional races and racetracks as part of its Youth and Education Services program. These lucky kids get to experience NHRA racing for free, and many even get to race their own cars on professional tracks.
Thrilling, yes. However the YES program, celebrating its 30th year, has considerably more to offer these young people than big thrills.
Free, Fun, and Formative
Some students sign up for the program because they’re already passionate about cars and racing. YES tends to fuel their interest. Others sign up and have their interest sparked once they learn about the exciting opportunities available.
Like the NHRA itself, YES aims to keep amateur hot-rodders off the streets by giving them a safe environment for racing. But in addition to growing the “off the streets and onto the track” mission, YES also teaches young people about the importance of responsible decisions in general, the value of education, and the opportunities for a lucrative career in the automotive industry.
The program is reaching a lot of teens. An average of 2,000 students register per event, with 30,000 enrolled overall so far this year.
The NHRA coordinates YES with schools through the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) program, providing an opportunity for hands-on, real-world education in fields that the government projects will grow the fastest in coming years. YES is the only accredited, free, full-time program educating high-schoolers about the industry in this way.
Bob Tasca III, CEO of Tasca Racing and Vice President of Tasca Automotive Group, is an enthusiastic supporter of the YES program and has been participating in education sessions for years.
“I tell these kids that my grandfather started as a 25-cents-an-hour ‘grease monkey,’ as they called service technicians back then,” Tasca says. “And he became one of the largest Ford stores in New England, even in the country at one time. It’s the best stepping stone for entering the automotive space. There’s a lot of exciting opportunity available.”
Never Go Out of Style
Sure, the good (even excellent) money is one reason to get into the field of electrical or automotive engineering and work as a service technician.
“Most people are unaware of the awesome career opportunities and earning opportunity for a Ford tech,” Tasca says. “You can have a six-figure career in five years or less, but it will take a lot of hard work and a focus on training. And you come out with little or no school debt!”
For some people, the reasons stop there. But there’s way more to this career opportunity. The second major point is job portability – something that is particularly important to today’s mobile young people.
“You can pick up and move anywhere, and by the time you land, you’ll have a job,” he says. “The industry has about 100,000 jobs available now but produces only about 40,000 technicians a year.”
Tasca also educates on the importance of job stability in a career choice.
“These young people haven’t lived through a recession,” he says. “They don’t know the stress of not being able to bring home a paycheck. I let them know that during past recessions, we’ve unfortunately had to let people go at the dealerships. But the one position we’ve never let go? Master technicians.”
Making a Connection
Tasca participates in YES programs all around the country throughout the school year and sometimes finds himself in front of crowds of 4,000 or more young people.
He and the Tasca Racing team also invite the students into the pits so that they can get the full feel of professional racing.
It’s this kind of hands-on experience combined with education and opportunity that gets Brad Gerber so excited about the program year after year.
“I can’t think of one other program out there as exciting as this one,” says Gerber, the NHRA’s Chief Development Officer. “It’s so engaging, so immersive. They get to go into the pits and touch a big fat slick. But they also have the chance to make lifelong mentors.”
Top Ford dealers can be found mingling in the Tasca Racing pit, making themselves available for talking with the youth and giving out their business cards and numbers to those interested in future employment.
More young women are attending the YES programs, too, which Tasca is pleased to see: “Our female techs go toe to toe with the best guys in the shop. It’s definitely not just a man’s world.”
The second part of Tasca’s speech is to leave the kids with 3 things that will get them on a path to success!
These are the qualities he looks for in a new member of his racing or dealership team.
Work harder than you play.
You know the saying “work hard, play hard”? For Tasca, it doesn’t quite cut it. “You need a tremendous work ethic to succeed at anything,” he tells the program attendees. “Within a week of hiring people, I can point to the ones who will be successful.”
Be responsible with your life.
Tasca encourages the attendees to take ownership of their life. “It’s not your mom’s life, or your dad’s – it’s yours. One irresponsible decision and you could throw it all away.” He shares that just two speeding tickets make an employee uninsurable at most dealerships; a DUI might mean five years of being uninsurable. “When going in for an interview, don’t put yourself behind the eight ball at ‘hello.’”
Wake up to chase your goals.
That’s goals, with an s. Set not just work goals, but also personal goals, goals for your family, etc. “You’re going to hit bumps along the way but as long as you have goals that you’re focused on, you’ll never lose sight of where you’re going,” Tasca says. “Hard work doesn’t always equal success. But if you don’t work hard, you’ll never find success. And do it today. You’re going to blink and you’ll be 30.”